AKSHAY: So hi, everybody Welcome to this Tech Talk So I’m here– actually, my name is Akshay I’m a UI designer at Google, and I’m really happy to announce that Ben Von Wong has come here today to speak to us Sometime last year I discovered the photography of Ben Von Wong I read about him, I checked out his amazing epic photography, and watched his YouTube videos to learn what I could And then in December, I thought I’d contact Ben and get in touch with him, never expecting to actually hear a response But Ben responded in about four minutes– and I checked the email just to make sure And this week actually he came out to the [INAUDIBLE]– he lives in Montreal– came out here and spent some time at SmugMug He’s been doing various shoots He was kind enough to invite me on one of them this weekend And I discovered that not only is he an epic photographer, but he’s also an epic guy So without further ado, here’s Ben Von Wong Thanks [APPLAUSE] BEN VON WONG: Good afternoon, everybody Thank you guys all for taking time out of your busy day to be here Super excited I don’t think I ever planned on coming to speak at Google this trip, so for me it’s pretty huge And Google to me is a white page with text box, so this is pretty awesome Out of curiosity, just to get a feel for who’s actually listening to me here today, how many of you guys are photographers? OK, how many would consider yourselves serious photographers? A little bit less, but pretty good And who doesn’t do photography whatsoever? OK, because everyone has a phone, right? So now you’re all photographers [LAUGHTER] All right No, really cool Yeah, the reason is, my talk is more or less centered on to photography, but the idea behind the talk is really about inspiration So my idea behind the talk is just to come out here and talk about the journey on, I guess, how I’ve gotten to where I am today, and to share a couple stories here and there along the way The way I’ve kind of laid things out over here is just– I have the introduction on why I do photography in the first place So what does it mean to me, why is it important, why I decided to become a photographer, if you will I have a timeline where I talk about the defining moments in my career, and how I built up, basically, from buying my first camera to ending up here today I deconstruct how these epic photo shoots come together by breaking down a couple key elements on how I source things, how I find people, how I bring them together I go over failure really quickly, because I think that’s a subject, a topic, that a lot of people get stuck on And then last but not least– I keep the most exciting for last so that nobody leaves in the middle my presentation, which is a Photoshop deconstruction that has some before and afters that a lot of people like So along the way there are a bunch of little question breaks here and there, but if you do want to interrupt me, I’m super friendly and I will answer your questions as we go along Cool So today we’re going to start talking a little bit about photography and why it is something that is really important to me And the reason I want to kind of bring up that initial subject is because I think that people, along the way as you do photography, the more you do it, you kind of forget why you picked it up in the first place People get a little bit distracted with the business side of things, about earning money, they start shooting, and then they get bored along the way And for me, photography is a whole bunch of things that incidentally are related, too, but aren’t entirely what makes what it is So that sentence doesn’t make sense It’s fine I’ll move forward One of the reasons why I like photography is the ability to create things that are epic I like to bring stories to life I think growing up as a kid, I’ve always wanted– you know, I’ve always read books– fantasies– and every kid wants to be a knight in shining armor, riding a horse whatever And suddenly I’m in the situation where I’m able to take these visions that I had a kid and bring them to life I’m able to find people, connect with them, and make something that really shouldn’t exist in reality and just kind of bring it into the present, which is really, really amazing A shoot like this comes together completely randomly I was actually sitting– I was actually just on Facebook going through my messages, and some dude from a medieval store hits me up and says, hey, I’ve seen your work I’d love to work on something together You should come by our store and check it out I said, sure, why not Went in, played dress up for a couple hours And before we knew it, we just started talking about the possibility of doing something together He had these amazing costumes And they said, you know, we have about a two week window where we can do something We have all the stock in from the new collection Would you like to do something together? And I said, well, I’m going to head off to Europe really soon It didn’t look that feasible, but you know, it was too cool of a project to pass through So we had two weeks And before I left the store that day, we had already locked on a location It was this medieval village And all I had to do was find people to wear suits of armor

So I went on Facebook, hit it up, and said, who wants to dress up as medieval soldiers on a weekend? And I ended up with about 50 people And we ended up in this really surreal situation where we had these guys just watching these beautiful sketches that I had made And this huge number of people actually ended up showing up– over 50 people within the space of two weeks, just to come and dress up and have a great time You know, this was in Montreal It was right at spring, so we had this crazy weather We had everything from hail to rain to sun It made no sense But even though this was a product that was purely creative, there was no money, there was nothing involved, all these people still got out And I think it’s because you almost bring back a certain sense of nostalgia to people where they can relive something that they would never have the chance to live otherwise And this is really– 50 people in the middle of this barn with fire, with all these props, and it’s absolutely crazy Another reason why I love photography is the ability to create things that are different This was a shot that I did for a metal band by the name of The Agonist, and they reached out to me Once again, they only had a two week deadline And they needed to come out with shots where they just wanted anything that would be different, anything that would stand out, anything that would make them a little bit different from the crowd Because the minute you type “metal band” in Google, what do you find? Well, you find this– a group of people with their arms crossed against a solid black background looking badass And you know, that’s not fun Everyone does the same thing So when they said we want something different, we just started brainstorming What could we come up with? And they said, a fight scene would be fun So we said, why not? And then we had to find a location, so I said loading dock, perhaps? Loading dock on my studio And then we needed props So props– in my case, we had a minimal budget So we went to a dumpster, and we just collected a bunch of crap and just decorated this loading dock, and did our photo shoot Took about one entire day At the end of the day, we came out with an image that really was conceivably one of the most iconic images that they’ve ever had And the cool thing about people that want you because you’re different, because you stand out, is that they’re going to want to hire you again for the next time around So this time they had a new singer, and they wanted to introduce a new singer into the group So we did the same thing We got them all together, and they wanted to figure out a way to introduce the new singer in a post-apocalyptic setting So we said, hey, why not suspend the girl and put in this factory kind of setting and do a shoot? So I started Googling for a forge– which we found– and looking for ways to suspend the girl, which we also figured out And initially I want to do this whole Photoshop deconstruction where pieces of her legs were coming off and really cybernetic, but they didn’t want people to think that their new singer was handicapped So at the end of the day, she needed all of her body parts, and we suspended her, and did all this stuff And there’s actually going to be a before and after I’ll show you guys later Other reasons why I love photography is the adventures that it brings, the places that it brings you that are completely unexpected This was a shot that I took in Belgium for a retoucher by the name of Chester van Bommel And I met Chester on the internet, because I was looking at a photographer whose work I quite enjoy– her name is Viona Art– and I noticed on the bottom there was a tiny little line that said, retouched by Chester van Bommel And I’m like, hey, this guy’s pretty cool He’s got some great stuff So I hit him up and said, hey, we should work together And that conversation just– it blossomed We did a couple creative products together And then the time came when I was actually going to Europe, and I said, you know, it would be a really fun project to kind of take a shot of you Show off what goes on in the mind of a retoucher And so we started brainstorming different ideas, different concepts I ended up in Belgium I wanted to find a place that was so grandiose that people would automatically assume it’s Photoshopped but wasn’t So I found an urban explorer, who brought us to this place, which is, I think, an abandoned stock exchange And I did everything my parents told me not to do, so that’s meet up with a stranger at 5 o’clock in the morning in a random parking lot for the first time, and then go into a manhole off on the street in the middle of another foreign country But then you end up in this crazy situation, this crazy location, that you would never ever have the chance to be in unless I had a good excuse to go out there Because I would never wake up at 5 in the morning, I’d never talk to a stranger, I would never go into a manhole to end up in the place if I wasn’t doing photography So photography for me is really about the experiences that I get to enjoy through photography Other things that I love about photography are the technical challenges that it brings This was a shoot that I did in a swimming pool And I wanted to come up with a different idea with one of my body painters And we came up with the idea of suspending a camera with a crane over a swimming pool with some black lights going over, because it hadn’t been done before So we ended up with this crazy set, this whole group of people, with our super high tech secure setting, here as you can see roped together, MacGyvered together

And the shoot came together I mean, it was probably one of the most technically difficult shoots that I had ever done Everything went wrong in that shoot And you know, I came up with all these crazy ideas initially when sitting down with this makeup artist We were kind of trying to figure out what hadn’t been done before, what would be really cool Then we thought black lights, but black lights had been done– you know, rave parties and all that Not super cool Then we wanted to sink the black lights underwater and do a shoot there, and then we didn’t have the technology to do it So finally we settled for something in the middle, which was suspend the black lights over the water and have these characters body painted kind of popping out through the surface And I had this whole storyline planned out These are my beautiful sketches– which is why I’m a photographer not an artist– of dropping a girl in the middle of like a bed sheet We thought it’d look like a flower It could symbolize birth And that didn’t work out– the girl almost drowned Well, she didn’t almost drown We had safety around, but it just didn’t look good Then the next shoot I wanted to do was tie these two people together on the bottom of the water to create like a tree kind of a looking thing That was supposed to symbolize some kind of a union And that didn’t work, because they could hardly swim on their own, let alone being tied together So that wasn’t going to happen So that went completely south Then I had this other idea where I wanted to create these little like tadpole-looking things, these three creatures, which were just supposed to symbolize some form of life And this one kind of worked We took a rope, we dragged all these three characters across the swimming pool and just get them enough momentum so they’re just floating along And it worked, but it didn’t look very good Then I had the first breath of life, which was these three characters coming out of the water, which is the one you just saw Then I had death, which was supposed to be the three of them lying one on top of another, which looked remarkably like life, but just not as good So at the end of the day, I had these elaborate concepts We spent about 12, 10 hours shooting the entire thing A whole bunch of things went wrong, but I got one good shot out of it And I suppose the moral of the story is, I tried something I push hard to try and achieve it, failed a bunch of things along the way, but now I know where my limitations lie on what I can achieve, and what I can’t achieve, and which parts to push, and which parts to grow And I really enjoy those technical challenges, because if it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing Other things I love about photography are the inspirational people that I get to meet along the way I think photography opens up windows, and it’s an avenue of communication that everybody has access to Doesn’t matter if you’re rich, you’re poor– everyone can look at a photo and understand and appreciate it And this has opened up countless doors for me, just because I can just reach out to people and say, hey, I do photography I really like what you do Let’s work on something together And that’s kind of my way to connect with people So this is a shot of the Underwater Realm And the Underwater Realm is a group of independent filmmakers Dave Reynolds– the guy sitting on the director’s chair underwater– actually decided to make a series of short films underwater, and that’s something that hadn’t been done before So they Kickstarted I think $150,000 And that guy’s like 26 years old, retaining a whole crew of like 50 to 100 people for a two-year period– all volunteers– just to make this series of short films that hadn’t been done before So when I saw their Kickstarter campaign, I was like, wow, you are so cool I want get to know you I want to be a part of your project I want to participate in this So I sent an email out Surprisingly, they replied, and they said, we’d love to work with you, but you’re in Montreal and we’re in London And at the time, I still had an engineering job, so it just didn’t seem very feasible But the connection had been made, and that was great Fast forward eight months down the line I was looking for inspirational people across Europe to shoot And I reached out to them again, and I said, hey, would you like to be a part of my project? And this time around, it just ended up working So I ended up in the middle of the swimming pool, working with these guys who, for me, are super inspirational And I think those interactions are so priceless and so impossible to have otherwise You know, who goes through these great lengths? They had this videographer who shoots for the BBC At the time, not many underwater RED EPIC housings, and he came, volunteered his time, just flew himself in just to be a part of the project They built entire sets underwater And I wasn’t part of this, because my shot was under the trial phase, but to see this come together and to know that I actually played a part in all of this is absolutely phenomenal And it wouldn’t have been possible without photography And last but not least, the reason why I love photography is the ability to inspire people, the ability to connect with people of all levels This was a shoot that I did, and it was done in Florida We made all the piece of the costumes We made the angel wings, and all that And how it came together was I put up a photo of me breathing fire, and this girl who is a Facebook friend tagged one of her friends in it, and she left a comment and said, oh my gosh, I’m never going to be as good as this guy And I left the comment, and I said, oh, try putting your camera to this and this setting And then she was like, oh my gosh, he replied! And she sent me like this huge Facebook message, just telling me that she’d love for me to check out her portfolio, that she was a video student, that she was also a make-up artist And then it took me about a week to reply to her, but eventually when we did reconnect,

I learned that she was also a special effects artist, she was off in Florida, and this conversation just started out And she said– it started off as this dare– and she said, is there anything that you’ve ever wanted to shoot that you haven’t had the chance to shoot yet? And then for some reason, I said, I’ve always wanted to shoot angel wings I want someone to build some angel wings for me And she said, if you come to Florida, I’ll make the angel wings for you And I said, if you make the angel wings for me, I’ll fly myself to Florida And she said, OK, and she started making them And I’m like aw, crap! So I’ve got to buy a ticket now So I bought myself a ticket to Florida And we didn’t really know what we’re going to do And it all started off with just this idea that we’re going to shoot a fallen angel in the middle of the forest And I got to the first day We went scouting, and we saw this magical forest, and I just came up with these ideas on how it would be nice to get the concept even more elaborate And by the time of the shoot itself, it just scaled itself up We ended up, I think, with seven models, full costumes that we had built over the space of a week These wings were actually built with just some packing plastics that we just strapped to coat hangers, and we dusted off with charcoal And it’s just absolutely cool and crazy to be able to do something like this And on top of that, a company called SmugMug– actually based out of Mountainview– also noticed this project And they told me that since I was in the United States, they’d love to come down and document my work, because they thought it was really inspirational and they wanted to share this vision with just the community So they flew their own videographer down to make this piece over here that I thought was absolutely fantastic Being creative has just become a way of life I don’t think it begins with the desire to wake up in the morning and say, today, I’m creative It just comes down to today, I want to live, I want to do what I love, and so I’m going to go out and I’m going to do that My name is Benjamin von Wong, and I’m an artist I like to think of my photography as something epic, something larger than life It takes a vision and exaggerates it, so that you can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake I take a concept, and I transform it into reality I mean, I don’t just take the pictures I conceptualize, I design them, I create them, I build them up It starts off with a base concept, it starts off with an idea, and it slowly builds up, based on the constraints that have available It’s all about finding solutions to make something that is seemingly impossible and making it to something that is better than reality I Think that people see photography as clicking a button, getting the lighting right, getting the composition right, but it’s so much more than that Being able to connect with people is so important, and it shows in the final results If you understand the story that you’re trying to tell, then suddenly they can translate that emotion, making the image that much more powerful I think that photos can transport people into another universe, into another world, and it becomes, you know, a story And people try to figure it out They want to understand what’s going on, and that just makes it magical I think that if you start doing the things that you love, and you start sharing the things that you love, then sooner or later, people start hiring you to do things that you love, for your passion, for your vision, for what makes you unique, and because you’re the only person that can do whatever that thing is because you love it so much My name is Benjamin von Wong, and I a creative So just think it’s super cool that a company would actually be so interested in what I do that they would be willing to fly their own person down to film this and share it with the world And you meet people by doing what you love, by being passionate about things And having the ability to connect with people, you meet the people that believe in what you do too Incidentally, the reason why I’m here today is because SmugMug decided to bring me in and just say, hey, we really love what you do, and we’d love to support it Come down We’ll commission some shoots for you We don’t really know what we want to shoot yet And we ended up suspending some of their employees off of a 40 story building just yesterday, with a camera dangling nine feet off the ledge on this massive C-stand We did a shoot so that their employees could come and attend, off in the forest, which is the one we actually went to see, where we had designers flying in from LA, five models coming in, just freezing their day off in Sutro forest just to be a part of all these projects And it’s really, really something amazing And it didn’t really always start off with– you don’t really start off saying like, oh, I want to be an inspiration I want to inspire people It actually began with me– when I started giving presentations like these, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to talk about So I went on Facebook and I started asking for help And I want to ask people what they thought about my work, and have I made a difference, have I contributed to them, have I touched them in any way, shape, or form? And I got the predictable– you know, all the answers about how technically they’ve learned a bunch of things But then I came across this one post by the name of Tyler Grace And he said, I’m a 19-year-old teenager, and I’ve lived half my life in a hospital thanks to a few chronic illnesses I had no passion or drive to do anything in life

at the beginning of last year But in about May or June, I came across you, and you are the one person who really inspired me to actually pick up my camera and actually be creative with it, rather than just take happy snaps with it Photography has changed my life, I’m now in the process of building a full-on photo studio at my dad’s video production studio, and I’m actually becoming a known photographer around town That is all thanks to you inspiring me with your creativity and awesome skill Even on the days when I can’t get out of bed or I’m stuck at the hospital or doctor’s appointment, I’m planning out my next shoot And this again is all thanks to you You inspire me to keep fighting and keep shooting Thank you so much And I think that was like the first time that someone had actually said “you’ve changed my life” like that What you’re doing– even if it had nothing to do with what he was doing– really made the difference And then suddenly that sense of responsibility of knowing that people are looking up to me and really paying attention to what I was doing became super relevant And I actually had the chance to meet this guy just in February, because I was in Singapore and his sister wrote to me and said, hey, Tyler’s 21st birthday is coming on, and his dream is to meet you But we can’t really afford to fly you in, so do you think you can make a personalized video to him? And I said, well, I’m in Singapore, and this is probably the closest I’m ever going to be to Australia I might as well just fly myself down So I pack myself into a box, and I showed up at his doorstep [VIDEO PLAYBACK] So I’ve just gotten off a 10 hour or so flight from Singapore to [INAUDIBLE], and we’re off to surprise Tyler Grace His 21st birthday’s coming up, and his wish was to meet me So we’re going to be granting a wish right now, and that would involve putting me in a box and showing up on his doorstep, and taking him on a one-week adventure So let’s see how it goes I want to strap a GoPro onto my head so that when I pop out of this magical box we can record Tyler’s astonished face [KNOCKING] -Hi! -Happy birthday! [LAUGHTER] -Can I give you a hug? -Yeah -How you doing? -Not too bad -What the hell? -We decided to surprise you -That is awesome [END VIDEO PLAYBACK] BEN VON WONG: It was at the point where basically what I do right now is I travel, and I go on these adventures, and I meet people I’m this social media content creator, where I’m empowered by the people that I inspire through talks, through conferences, that actually finances my trips to go to the next place to keep shooting, to keep doing things And I realized I could do exactly what I normally do– I could just give a conference, which would fund my trip to Australia– but in the process, I could just drag along this fan of mine for an adventure And he’s got fibromyalgia, super sick, bedridden guy And I didn’t know this at the time, but he’s probably one of my hugest fans He’s read like every single one of my Facebook posts, blog posts, everything He knew everything about my life It was crazy And instead of just showing up at his place, I decided to just drag him out on an adventure So we did a photo shoot with him I took pictures of him and his sister like dragging him through the mud He’s from Australia, he’s never seen a wild kangaroo So we saw a wild kangaroo He’d never been to a rodeo We brought him to a rodeo He’d never been on a canoes since he was seven And he wouldn’t do that I put together a photo shoot so that he could actually attend it and see what that was like So it was exactly what I normally did, and I did the behind the scenes and everything, but this time around, it actually really, really made an impact on this one individual And I thought that was a fascinating story So it’s been a very, very fun process, this whole evolution of photography So what I’m trying to say at the end of the day is that photography is not just clicking the button For me, it’s not about framing a shot and clicking it That process just happens to be incidental, because it is the vehicle for which I can do all the things that I love to do And I think that’s the same for everybody who picks up a camera They don’t pick it up because they want to press that button They pick it up because they want to showcase an emotion They want to transport people to a place They want to capture beauty in some way, shape, or form They want to show something that doesn’t exist They want to create something new So photography has reasons There’s a reason why you love photography and why it’s special to you, and I think it’s always important to remember what those reasons are Questions? You guys are terrified of me Or you’re sleeping Yes AUDIENCE: So what clicked so you turned from the engineering job to the photography job? What was it inside of you that made that happen? BEN VON WONG: I got bored of engineering, and I quit And then incidentally, I became a photographer by default, because that was the only thing I was doing It wasn’t really planned I got bored of engineering But I actually go over that in the next part

where I can talk about the timeline Cool? So I’ll move forward So I have this quote from Ernest Hemingway, and it says, “It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” and I think that just a really important quote, because at the end of the day, I think something that I realized along the way is that you spend a lot more time trying to get to somewhere than you do when actually spending time there And it’s kind of funny, because you set these really lofty goals, and then suddenly you reach them And then you need to set something else, because there’s nothing else to do about it, because you’ve already achieved it And it gets really boring And if anything– in my case, I’ve found it disappointing once I’ve achieved it, because I’m like that’s it? I’ve gotten there already, then just try to keep aiming higher So I think it’s always really important to realize what you’ve achieved up to now, where it’s brought you, and it just makes life a lot more interesting along the way if you can just reach these points Just to give you guys a quick example, I think two days ago, I had a day off, and I spontaneously decided to hop in the car and drive to the Apple campus, where incidentally got kicked out because it was a Sunday And we snuck in when the door was open I just sat on top of the Apple sign and took a photo on Instagram, and I was just so happy, because I was just in Apple campus And I’ve read the biographies of Steve Jobs, and I’ve seen all that stuff Or even being here today, just these little moments in time, these slices of time, just to be like, what am I doing here? How did I get here? This is crazy It’s just really, really fun to sit back and appreciate what you’ve gotten And keeping that in mind, I’m going to talk about the process on how this Von Wong moniker actually came to be, like how did I become this character? By the way, for those of you who are wondering, Von Wong is not my real name It doesn’t exist Von is German “Von” means “from.” So when I was inventing a name– or actually, the first thing you do when you start looking for your own website is you put your own name into Google And the first name that came up was Benjamin Wong, which is my real name, was another photographer that did weddings off in Toronto I was like, hell no That’s not gonna work So I decided to invent something that would be a little bit more exciting and marketable And then “from” in German, from the family of Wong, just seemed kind of catchy and cute It actually sounded really corny at the time, but now it sounds pretty cool I’ve got people calling me Mr. Von, which is hilarious [LAUGHTER] But anyway, so the birth of Von Wong And it didn’t all start off like– you know, I don’t have one of those crazy awesome stories that people got a camera at the age of three by their grandfather, and their eyes lit up when they saw the first frame happen My story is a little bit more mundane I was working in a mine in Winnemucca, Nevada, in 2007 And around this timeframe– you can see the nice little timestamp on the bottom– this girl breaks up with me And I decide that, if I don’t find something to do to keep myself busy in this small town of 10,000 people with two Chinese people, I’m going to go absolutely crazy So I decided that, why not go out there and take pictures of the stars? Stars are pretty So I went to Walmart, bought a point and shoot, tried to take a picture of the stars Wasn’t good enough Returned it and bought the bigger camera, the more expensive one And it was also not good enough, so I returned that And I had to drive to the next city over to go buy a DSLR And I remember going in there, and I just didn’t even know what to do with it I just kind of said, how do you turn it on? Because you have to look in the viewfinder So the guy said, what you want? I said just get me any camera that’s about $800 And he kidded me with a Pentax K100D Then I took that, went to Starbucks, sat down, read the manual And then by that evening, I just drove out, slept in the car, and I took my first photo of the stars, which you can see this fantastic masterpiece over here Entirely grainy, nothing spectacular, but I was really, really happy I had my photograph of stars And this was the first photo that I guess that I ever successfully took And probably one of the last– I haven’t really taken pictures of stars since But by that point, I had a camera, and it became my travel companion I brought it around everywhere, and I became that really annoying Asian guy with a camera that brings it to everything So every party, every event, every time I was out on the street, I had this camera I joined every single photo club that I could And then I made a new girlfriend who was also a photographer, and that whole thing just started building up And as the way things go, the more you shoot, eventually you start meeting people And one of my friends was actually an event photographer, and he couldn’t make it to an event anymore They had dropped the rates a little bit And he said, hey, I can’t make it to this event They don’t pay that well It’s like about $200 for five hours There’ll be pretty girls and free alcohol Do you want to help me cover it? And I said, sure, no problem So I went and I shot this first event And I remember I rented a monopod so that my camera would look bigger and more professional And I did my first shoot And this is the first time that I had actually gotten paid to do photography And it really clicked something in my mind, which was the first time that I had actually gotten paid to do something that I enjoyed to do Now, usually you pay money to do things that you like to do But this time, I was getting paid to have a good time,

to go drink and take pictures and do all this stuff and meet people It was absolutely fantastic So I used that as an excuse to buy a whole bunch of gear Thankfully, I was an engineer, so buying gear wasn’t a problem Went out there, bought some more gear, started shooting And I was shooting like three, four times a week And I shot everything, it didn’t really matter I just brought my camera out I was shooting bands, I was shooting events, I was shooting protests I was just getting myself into all sorts of weird situations And photography was just that companion of mine And it didn’t just stop at events It also extended– you do just a little bit of everything So in my case, I shot a little bit of portraits, I shot some engagement things, I tried my hat at levitation Even let a little bit of Photoshop in– you can see the fantastic smoky effect over there on the left It’s just all part of that process of just growing But I was getting out there and I was shooting, and then invariably when you start shooting enough, you start getting a little bit better You start shooting bigger events Things start going really well You fall into weddings, because everyone ends up shooting weddings at one point in their time in the photo career And the photos are actually getting quite decent, and business was going really, really well But then what happened was I got into another break-up So break-ups are these fantastic events in my life where you question every single thing that happens to you, and you wonder why you’re in these weird situations And then in my case, I came to the realization that I had two jobs at the time– I had engineering and I had photography And that wasn’t what I had originally set out to do I had engineering as a job, and photography was supposed to be the fun thing But at this point, it had become two really time consuming, exhausting activities And I kind of did the calculations I said, well, I didn’t need the money, so this wasn’t what I wanted to do in photography, so why was I doing it? So I just dropped the entire event set of things, bought some new equipment, some new studio flashes, and tossed myself into this project– the 365 project– which is to take one photo a day every day for 365 days I failed 365 days is a long time So incidentally, I only got about 100 days in But through that process, I really got the chance to grow as an artist Every single day, I had to come up with new ideas, so eventually I ran out of models that I could actually collect within the timeframe necessary, so I started learning a lot of Photoshop to compensate It was just this really good growth process of just growing and growing and growing And when I decided to quit, it was because I wasn’t able to sustain this many photo shoots And I hit 100 days, and I told myself that, well, now that I have more time, I might as well do these more elaborate shoots, start collaborating with different individuals, taking more time to go to cooler places And that’s where I think my style started to get shaped a little bit more You see we have me exploring some abandoned building, dressing people up, going to studios, suspending people together There’s actually a chair there Just by Photoshopping it and rotating the foot, you have this beautiful levitation effect And, you know, breaking into abandoned places with guys with guns Always a good idea Doing everything from school project– Shades of Gray was a student project from Concordia I also started working with body-painters So all the weird– all the eclectic things I started experimenting with special effects We had a smoke machine in the center image, and the one completely on the right is one where we– I was shooting on a bridge, I flipped the camera upside-down super close to the water We tossed dry ice into the lake, and then bam, we had this crazy super smoky effect It was getting really, really cool And then as the shoots went on, they started getting a little bit more elaborate, I started getting more people, experimenting more in Photoshop, played with zombies Everyone plays zombies Just like what weddings– it’s a recurrent theme And I had some zombies I started playing with a little bit of fire And you know, the shoots just start getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and then eventually I just decided to quit my job as an engineer So there are a couple actual points in time that led to me becoming this Von Wong, and I’m going to try to break them down into these little categories And the first kind of moment that defined my career was in 2008 And 2008 was the discovery of something magical called speedlights So at the time, I had a D300, I had an 18 and 200, and I had an SB 900 thing And I was like, OK, this is great I don’t need anything more We’re going to be set for the rest of my life It does everything And I was wrong I went to this free event hosted by the Strobist community in Montreal And you know what happens in these events There’s like a semicircle of photographers, and one person there, and everyone’s taking the same photo from a slightly different angle But this time around, someone just came up to me, and they handed me like a little trigger dongle, and I just slapped that onto my camera and took a picture And then suddenly, my photo in my hand was completely different from what everyone else had I like to be different I think it’s because I’m Asian I have this complex I need to be different So I just said, what we really need– this is amazing I get to tell stories with this, I can create things that are different, I can start getting a lot more creative And then that’s when really my style went from stuff like this– which is general, really compositional based, these photo ops of friends of friends going to interesting places, taking all the different like oddball poses– to finally starting to get a lot more creative, a lot more experimental Now, the photos are by no means anything too fantastical,

but they really opened up this vessel for creativity And since I started doing these lighting set-ups and these more elaborate looks and dos, then Photoshop also kind of came into place So it was this vessel learning, because it just opened up this world possibilities to me In 201o– so between 2008, 2010, pretty much the same thing happened I kept shooting I got better My shoots got a little bit more elaborate, like I said But what really changed in 2010 was that I did a shoot where I actually recorded a behind-the-scene video So you can see the photos They’re pretty cool, but not necessarily any cooler than any of the other images that I was taking It was done with flour We went into a studio We tossed flour all over the place and made a huge mess of it It was great And the one difference, though, is that this time around, I had a behind the scene videographer come in And actually it was my ex-girlfriend at the time– my girlfriend the time– who really, really wanted me to start doing behind-the-scene videos And I remember arguing with her and saying, why would anyone want to see what I do you? It would be boring There’s no reason for it And she really argued hard against it So eventually went to Future Shop, bought a camera, and returned it every other week just to record these video footages, and started making these behind-the-scene videos And what happened was the same photo, the same shoots that I had spent the same amount of time that were just as cool, because they had a behind-the-scene video suddenly meant that they were getting picked up by all of these up and coming blogs So like DIY photography, Fstoppers, and all this stuff So those same photos that I was creating suddenly had gained a lot more traction on the internet So I told myself that from this point forward, if ever I did a photo shoot, I’d have to have a behind-the-scene scene video, because the same images were getting seen more And if we don’t create to share, then why do you bother creating in the first place if no one’s going to see it, right? That was a huge thing for me And then we hit 2012 So between 2010, 2012, not much happened I just kept shooting I kept videoing My internet popularity started to grow But 2012 was when I decided to quit my job as an engineer So as I said, I woke up one morning, and it was after three and a half years of engineering I had kind of passed that little threshold that takes you from junior engineer to engineer And that’s a little chapter, so I’m supposed to get a pay jump, and all that good stuff And then I figure that, you know, what’s next? If I keep going this, and another 10 years of engineering, I can keep climbing the food chain slowly But it wasn’t what I wanted to do So I didn’t need money I had put money away in savings I was still living with my parents So all this stuff– there was no reason for me to keep going in engineering So I made up my mind, I think, in the space of 10 minutes waking up in the morning that I’m done I’m going to quit The decision to convince my parents was a little bit harder, though, since they weren’t totally stoked about the idea And I kind of tricked them and said that I was going to do an MBA And I fully had the intention of doing an MBA, until I started sitting down and realizing that for two years of my life, I was going to have to shove everything else away, focus on this MBA, take all my savings, toss it into this educational program, get out with nothing– except a nice little piece of paper So I renegotiated the terms of our agreement I ended up just doing a GMAT And then I could still go back to school if I needed to It’s my Plan C, if ever I need to And told my parents I was going to just try to figure the photography thing out And so what happened when I quit my job was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, because there’s no three year plan, there was no five year plan, there was no studio, there was nothing, so I decided to go travel So when I traveled, the first thing I did was travel to the most exotic place that I could afford to go to, that I knew somebody at That happened to be Israel So I crash on this guy’s sofa And his name is Udi He owned a blog called DIY Photography, and it was the first time that I actually met somebody that lived off the internet He had a job at Texas Instruments Systems engineer And he was earning more money from his blog part time, so he decided to quit and do that full time And I was like, oh hey, this is pretty interesting How do you do it? He was like, well, you need to have a blog I’m like, oh You’ve got to have a YouTube channel I’m like, oh So I just started realizing all these things that I needed in order to keep progressing, at least to transform something into sustainable business model So I finish that trip, I came back home, and it was great, and I was like, OK, I want to keep traveling But I had a problem I didn’t have any money So what did I do? Well, I decided to ask people for money instead Right? So I did a crowdfunding project By this time, I already had a pretty decent influence on the internet I’d done my behind-the-scene videos, I had been teaching people for free I didn’t have a blog to consolidate all the information, but it was out there And I reached out, and I asked people if they would support this tour of mine to go through Europe And surprisingly, I put up a 5,000 thing, and I got $12,000 back in return of people that believed in me enough to support these projects And then I went on this trip And then suddenly I went from being a Montreal-based photographer to being a guy who had photos of pyrotechnicians off in France I had some mask designers off in Spain This shot– that was done in London I have this one in Belgium This was the National Slovak Theater off in Slovakia This shot of a paraplegic Olympic athlete off in England

also And I have this shoot over here of a band off in Belgium So now by default, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t paid for any of this stuff I just suddenly became this international photographer And then these stories all gave me that cohesive storyline to start building a YouTube channel, to start consolidating all of my viewership, all of my fans It also give an excuse to make a blog, because I had something to talk about The biggest problem with a blog is figuring out what you want to talk about And it just really, really started bringing the whole thing together So that was really what 2012 was about for me And I fall into 2013, and I had reached this really, really interesting point in my life, where by that time I had 29,000 fans on Facebook, 16,000 subscribers on YouTube, 30,000 monthly views on my blog, I was doing international workshops and conferences, and I was traveling about six months of the year And you’re like, all right, well, where do you go from here? On top of that, I had actually collaborated with a whole bunch of different companies I’d been published in all sorts of different places And I was like, I don’t really know what else to do I want more commercial contracts, but you can’t just make your own commercial contracts Someone needs to hire you And in my case, I didn’t want to start bending who I was to start attracting these clients And I was stuck in this rut of not really knowing where I wanted to go from that point forward And it just so happens that, because I was just waiting for something to happen, I guess, this girl by the name of Nicole writes an email to my agent out of nowhere Basically it’s this 50-year-old lady who is diagnosed with a terminal illness And she’d never done a photo shoot in her life, and she really wanted to do a creative photo shoot that would represent who she was so that at her funeral, she would have a photo that she had chosen, that she had designed, to showcase who she was So my agent forwarded me this email, and I saw it, and I said, hey, yeah Definitely Let’s do this So I gave her a call that same day She wasn’t even expecting a response, and it was absolutely crazy for her And we took her on an adventure We took her out to do photos We got bookshelves– we went to Salvation Army, got bookshelves, books, typewriters We found a tree I went and took her location scouting Found hair, makeup, the whole nine yards organized within a two week period And took for her some crazy images that she just never really had the chance to have before And what was absolutely crazy about this experience is that my photos up to now had really just been about doing these cool adventures that I would share with people But they had never really touched someone– touched them before Like, the photos themselves had never really mattered to an individual So for me, to have images that really meant something to somebody was really, really, really, really crazy for me And that really got me thinking And I told myself, you know what? I really need to do more projects like this This stuff is fantastic But you now, you can’t really wait for someone to send you a message saying that they’re terminally ill and they need photos So I decided to reach out to the Make-a-Wish Foundation I tried Make-a-Wish USA, I tried Make-a-Wish Canada I reached out to them, told them what I did, and that I’d love to get involved And we talked It went great, and nothing happened So I just ended up in this situation where my mind frame was set on doing more products like this I didn’t know how they were going to come about, but I was kind of working towards it And that’s where the idea of going to visit Tyler off in Australia came forth And additionally, there’s this project that actually just landed on my doorstep This little girl– I got an email from one of my contacts, a writer at PetaPixel So the full story is, there’s this father off in South Carolina who has this little daughter with a degenerative brain disease She’s four years old And basically right now, she’s normal She runs, she talks, she laughs, just like any other kid But over the next three to four years, she’s going to slowly stop walking, stop talking, stop everything, and just basically die around her teenage years And there’s a cure that’s available, but what’s missing right now is money to fund the clinical trial And he had Googled online “how to make a viral video,” because at that point they had raised $43,000 on their GoFundMe campaign after nine months, and they didn’t really know what to do And they had three months left to raise the next– what was it– $950,000 And had no idea how they were going to do it So they went to Google They searched, they ended up on the website of some girl called Karen Chang, who had written an article “How to Make a Viral Video– 10 steps.” And he just read it and he was like, this doesn’t mean anything to me I can’t do this I’m just a normal guy trying to help my daughter And he writes her an email saying, hey, I need help She had seen my video that I had made for Nicole, so she reached out to the editor of the blogger that had featured me, saying, do you know any videographers that might be interested in participating? He sent an email out to a bunch of people And I got this email between Singapore and Malaysia on my phone And I was sitting on the plane just getting ready to take off They said, well, we need a million dollars We need a viral video We have three months to do it And I was like, seems like a hard project I’m down So I wrote back a message, and I said– within 10 minutes,

I wrote back and I said, I’m not the best videographer out there Actually, I’m more of a photographer But if you guys are willing to have me, I have 10 days free next month I’ll fly myself over, and help you guys make a video And there’s only two people that replied to that email– and it was sent out to 50, 100 people– and that was me and SmugMug that replied three days later, which I thought was absolutely crazy So this entire project went along I flew myself over, helped to make a video so that their little girl wouldn’t end up looking like the other one on the side And the video– I’d like to play it really quickly [VIDEO PLAYBACK] -Cara always wanted a daughter We’d a couple miscarriages, and finally, we get very lucky and have Eliza -I would describe Eliza as a very affectionate child Happy, very active, and the little girl that kind of keeps you on your toes -It was just great for two and a half, three years I would say we had the perfect– just the perfect life I didn’t go to the meeting when the diagnosis was received I wasn’t even at that It was another just check it off the list to make sure that this isn’t what– I didn’t even know what the meeting was I didn’t even there was a genetics meeting happening, honestly -And they just said, you know, I’m not gonna beat around the bush I’ll just tell you like it is She’s got Sanfilippo Syndrome And having heard about the syndrome before through my medical training, I mean, I just– that sinking, pit of your stomach, like this is really bad This is a really bad -You know where it’s headed It’s headed towards suffering It’s headed towards pain for her And as a father, you want to be able to protect your children -If the money doesn’t come in time, she’ll stop speaking within the next six months She will stop walking withing the next two years Stop being able to feed herself in the next three to four years She will develop seizures and movement disorders, experience a lot of pain and suffering And then she’ll die -The donations that come in are going to fund this clinical trial, and fund a chance at life for Eliza I mean that is the hope we hold onto -Hope is a nice word, but we need action We don’t just have hope There is something very real that exists that, with enough money, will happen, and will happen in time for our Eliza and other kids -I mean, it is so close We’re just so close to this being done, and being put in children It’s going to be hit or miss -It’s not a question of, you know, if this can happen This will happen -Please share Please share [END VIDEO PLAYBACK] BEN VON WONG: So coming up with a video that was able to explain this really complicated syndrome within a three minute period to hold the attention of the internet was a huge challenge And actually, putting together this interview was really, really stressful, because you’re there, listening to these interviews, over and over, of the two parents just talking about how hard it was for them to learn this news, over and over And knowing that the results of these videos were directly going to impact the life of this child wasn’t really something I had considered at the time I just thought it was going to be a cool challenge, and then I realized after that, I was literally like that this video represented the one hope they had of actually successfully or unsuccessfully funding the entire project And thankfully the video actually picked up quite nicely And within a three month period, we had actually hit $1 million And right now, they’re off and their campaign’s still going on They have another $800,000 to go But now the deadline’s been push back up to October And it’s this really crazy situation where they’re doing all of this work, they’re trying to raise all of this money, and they don’t even know if their child is going to be selected for the trial So this really this chance to cure this incurable disease that everyone’s been putting a lot of effort into And it’s just really magical to be a part of a process like this, and being able to leverage social media and all this content, and all these things that I’ve done over my career, I suppose, has been absolutely crazy I launched a site with SmugMug, just photographers donating their prints to sell their prints to their fans and followers And we’ve managed to raise $28,000 through that alone So there’s all these different– I don’t know,

the internet is this amazing place And photography isn’t just limited to taking pictures, but it is so much larger than that It is something that you can reach out and connect people to And it’s been really, really amazing to see all of this, and it’s something that, you know, I decided that I really want to start being more of a part of So if we were to break down the different phases in photography in my career, we have 2008, which is about learning We have 2010, which is about sharing, 2012, which is about dreaming, and 2013, which is about evolving And these are really four phases, I think, in a person’s career that– these are things that are always going to come back You never want to stop learning You never want to stop sharing You never want to stop dreaming And you always want to keep evolving, because things change as you go And if you spend too long going on a path and start questioning why you’re doing it, it’s time to re-evaluate why you’re doing everything, and figure out where you want to go from there So questions? You guys are all sleeping One! AUDIENCE: What happened to the child? BEN VON WONG: Well, she’s– what happened to the child? She’s still there Right now, they’ve been featured on everything, from NBC to the Today Show It’s gone around, and now we’re still waiting I just did this three months ago This is current right now, and the question is, will they make enough money for October, and then the next question is, will she even be selected, which is outside of our control Actually, you can use the microphone AUDIENCE: You said that you were considering doing works like the one you described, and like the one, the video So are you managing to sell these projects and to make money out of it, out of these people? Are you getting progress in that? BEN VON WONG: Well, I do occasionally get hired to take photos from time to time, which is great I can’t say that I have been the pinnacle of commercial success, but it also hasn’t been what has driven me If anything, what’s driving me is the idea to create content that is social media friendly that will get my name out there, because I think the money will come, sooner or later And right now I’m in the stage where I’m travelling eight, ten months out of the year I’m meeting people all over the place I’m doing things that nobody’s ever done before– I mean, I just did a shoot in a shipwreck in Bali, 25 to 30 meters underwater– that no one would hire me to do right now But I can do it, and I did it, and it’s gone out, and it’s gotten a lot of attention And all these things, all these projects that I’m building will build up eventually to a commercial career But once I get there, and I have a house and I have a car and I have a studio, I can’t be crazy any more I can’t go around So I’m not really in any rush to get to that point And I do have an agent, and she’s there to make sure that all the pieces are lined up properly I have a bunch of corporate sponsorships of people who give me equipment, support what I do, and enable me to keep going forward So all the pieces are in place When the commercial gigs come in, I do them, and they’re fine But it’s not the focus right now Right now, my focus has really been creating things, doing things that I love, getting out there, and making awesome stuff AUDIENCE: So one thing I’ve picked up through everything that you said is that pretty much everything you’ve done is with the involvement, with the help, with the input of other people And in particular, it sounds like a lot of that has been from social media, like social media is the be all, the end all, the end unto itself kind of thing I’m wondering if that’s a fair assessment, if I’m picking up things correctly from you If you started out basically establishing your online presence, and it just kind of went from there, or if there’s been more to it than that, if there’s been a little bit more of traditional outreach, so to speak BEN VON WONG: I think growing up as a kid, I’ve always been somewhat of an attention whore Yeah– do I keep talking? AUDIENCE: Yeah, yeah BEN VON WONG: Oh, OK Yeah, so growing up, I’ve always been somewhat of an attention whore And then I’ve never been really great at anything I’ve done a whole bunch of things– I’ve played violin, I’ve done martial arts, I’ve done dancing and everything– but I’ve never been great at anything I’ve never been really good at anything And then suddenly with photography, I started being half-decent at something that I could then share with people, that I would get some great feedback from, and I could interact with people So I think social media– like without social media, if we’re still on film, I probably wouldn’t take pictures I don’t have the patience to go in a darkroom and lock myself in a hole and come up with pictures that a couple people are going to see So I wouldn’t be able to do the projects that I do, I wouldn’t be able to travel the way I travel, I wouldn’t be able to meet the people I would meet So yeah, I think that’s definitely a fair assessment to say that internet’s changed the world It’s shaped my world AUDIENCE: In the movies, we have a director, and we have a DP You don’t You’re directing and doing photography? How do you manage such a large crew and actors, many times as those actors are models are not professional,

so they’re even more demanding to work with and to try to get your vision out of? BEN VON WONG: I think the answer to that question is there’s not really any good answer to it The answer is I just do it At the end of the day, I don’t have a team I source my team of freelancers whenever it’s needed, the idea being that if you need someone, you just reach out to them And of course, I think my greatest strength as an individual is not my ability to take pictures, but my ability to connect with people I’m a really good people person I’m sociable, I’m happy, I’m energetic, I animate, I bring people together, and I make them believe that they can do anything, and then together we do stuff But I’m just a guy pressing the button If I couldn’t bring these people together, I wouldn’t have anything to work with And incidentally, yes, I take pictures, technically speaking, putting lights up, all that stuff That’s kind of secondary But my projects, my productions, bringing these elements together– there’s so much pre-production that comes into it I don’t know, I guess it’s the excitement that just carries through that vision, the idea Sharing with people and telling them that anything is possible, that they can do it, is a huge part of what I do So I don’t really know how to answer your question “how do you do it.” I just do it AUDIENCE: So apparently from your photos, it seems like there’s a lot of technical aspects associated with them to be able to fully realize the creativity that is in your head How much of the engineering background that you had actually carried through into the photography world, or did you have to basically start from scratch? BEN VON WONG: You know, I think every single experience in your life is a byproduct that contributes to whatever you happen to do So the fact that I traveled a lot when I was younger– I’ve been in 13 different schools, three different countries, different languages, means I can connect to people very well The fact that I did 15 years of martial arts means that I understand movement I’m able to capture that I know what the peaks are I know how to communicate with an athlete so I can connect And the fact that I had training as an engineer means I have a critical problem solving analytical approach to things But that’s how I choose to sell myself, because I mean, I can just bullshit all day long about what skills and how they’ve contributed to my background Engineering is engineering– I don’t know I just downloaded AutoCAD the other day to design this rig that we’re going to be hanging off the building, which was great I was so happy to learn that something I did at school is actually useful now But I can’t really say that it’s something that’s directly contributed, but there are definitely benefits, just like everything that you’ve learned, all the experiences in your life, contribute to the final success I don’t think you need to be an engineer to be a photographer But it sure can’t hurt But I’m sure a master physician would have just as much to gain from it I guess the question from now is, how does it all come together? How do you take all of these pieces and everything? How do they all come together? How do they fall into place? How do I make these big productions? I’ve talked about how I build up to it, but how these all come together? And I think that it’s all a question about breaking it down into smaller parts You have these stories that are really elaborate, that are really large scale, but at the end of the day, if you break them down, they’re just like any other photo shoot You have a location, you have a model, you have your props, you have the stylist, you have your talent, and all these little pieces of the puzzle working together that you’ve brought together so that there’s a story to tell And if you break these down into little parts, then they suddenly become a lot more manageable, because each one takes a certain amount of work to figure out And you figure out there’s no there’s no huge magical formula to figuring out all of these things At the end of the day, really, the solution is hard work So I just have a couple stories on how each one of these individual elements were found So location, for example This was a shoot that I did in a shipwreck on the surface of water in Vancouver And basically what had happened was I was going to fly over to Vancouver and do a workshop But the workshop organizer was so crappy that I flew in 8 days before the shoot, and we didn’t have a place to shoot yet But he had sold tickets And I was like, what are we going to do? He’s like, oh, we’ll just find a studio And I said, I don’t shoot in studios You can’t do a workshop with me in a studio We need to find a really cool place So obviously he wasn’t going to be very helpful And I just started hunting online I just went and stalked profiles from other photographers that were based out of Vancouver that did crazier things So I reached out to a couple of my friends that knew people, and someone referred me to this guy called Pete Jones And I was browsing his albums, and I saw this shipwreck, and I was like this is where we need to shoot! How do we shoot there? So I wrote him a message, presented my case, that I was teaching, really needed help, I’m a photographer, da da da And he’s like, I can give you the contact information for the guy, but just a word of warning, he’s kind of crazy I said, I don’t care I want to shoot there So he gives me this number I call up the guy and I tell him I want to shoot And he comes up with this whole conspiracy theory on why it’s not OK to shoot there because the government is chasing after his land and some illegal things and whatnot They’ll shut them down And then he kept talking, and then he started rambling about what the difference between a Chinese person was, a Korean person, a Japanese person That conversation lasted about an hour Didn’t go anywhere

But I didn’t hang up the phone I just kept listening to him And then eventually he said, well, I can’t let you shoot there, but do you want to come visit? And I said, yes, that’s exactly what I was waiting for So 8 o’clock the next morning, we drove down– or actually 6 o’clock in the morning We drove down to meet him at 8 o’clock and say, oh, great Can we see the place? So he took us for a little tour, all the while saying we couldn’t shoot there And showed us how amazing the place was, this and that, this and that And then at the end, we said, well, why can’t we shoot there? And he shows us this sign by the Agricultural Land Commission and says, look at this thing They put a notice up They won’t let us shoot I’m reading the sign, and it doesn’t really say anything about film or photo permits So there’s a number at the end We call them up and say, hey, we’re at this guy’s property Are we allowed to do a shoot on the boat? And they said, oh, yeah Actually the reason why that sign is up there is because he’s declared that these lands are being used for farming purposes, and he’s got broken ships on his property instead of farming So it was just an excuse for a tax break, and all this stuff I’m like, OK, so there’s no problem for shooting there, right? He’s like, no, no, no It’s not a problem I said, do you think you can write me an email officially stating that we have permission to shoot there? He’s like, yeah, no problem So he sends us an email We go back to the dude and say, OK, we have this piece of paper Can we shoot there? And he says, nope, you can’t I’m like, why? Because the city is not OK with it You have to go to the City Hall to get permission from them I don’t want any trouble with the city I’m like OK We drove to City Hall 15 minutes away We showed up at their doorstep, explain the situation, said hey, we want to shoot at this shipwreck Can we shoot there? This guy’s crazy He says no They’re like yeah, yeah, yeah We have no problem with him You can do whatever you want I’m like, can I have it in writing? I need a piece of paper to show to him Right So he sends the piece of paper We go back Show it to him and say, OK, I have all your pieces of paper Can we shoot here? And he says, no but I don’t want any liability problems I don’t want– if someone gets injured on set, I’m going to be in trouble I said, OK, what if we prepare all these liability insurance forms? And he’s like, I guess that could work And we went and got all the liability We just printed some samples off Google, like these waiver forms, and just signed all these papers– and we had to fax them to him, because he didn’t have email– and faxed all these papers to him Called him up and said, OK, can we shoot here? And he said, well, I guess I don’t have a choice any more It doesn’t matter or anything [LAUGHTER] So this took about two days to sort through And then Wednesday– so, three days before the shoot was going to happen, I end up with permission finally to shoot at the shipwreck And I just bring these photos of this amazing shipwreck, and I hit up a clothing design store and I said, hey, we have access to this amazing shipwreck for a weekend I’m going to be shooting I’m going to be teaching Would you lend us some clothing? And then that’s where we found our designers Same thing We have these amazing costumes We have this amazing location Do you want to model for us? And within one week, we built the entire shoot So was it easy? No, it was a pain in the butt It’s a lot easier sometimes just to trespass and sneak in there, but this time I was teaching, and it needed to be official, and all that stuff, but that’s how it came to be Right So nothing easy Hard work gets you there Sometimes it’s a lot easier, sometimes a lot harder Models How do you find models? And models– there’s everything Facebook Your friends– you can guilt them into modeling for you You have Model Mayhem You have all these different resources online to find models And I think the one thing that people tend to overlook a little bit is communities If you can think of a– if there’s a group of people that you’re interested in shooting, there’s probably a community around it, whether they dress up as medieval characters, whether they dress up as anime characters When I first started out photography and I wanted to do things that were creative, I went to the fetish community, because they will do anything and they have all the costumes, all these different types, and they love the attention So you ask any fetish model whether they’ll model for you, they’re just like, what do you want me to wear? And they’ll show up there with these completely crazy things So if you find a community– if there’s something you like, there’ll be a community for it If you find one, you find them all It’s just like, you find one photographer, you find them all It’s a really easy equation And some people get really complicated about shoots And sometimes I like to do things that are a little bit out of the box And this over here, this shoot over here, for example, every year once a year in Montreal, there’s something called a Victorian picnic And what it is is just a group of people that dress up in Victorian costumes show up at this picnic, and they just have a picnic And incidentally, when cool people with cool costume show up at a picnic, well, photographers show up I think there’s usually more photographers than picnic people But at the end of the day, what I did differently from everybody else was I reached out and I said, hey, do you guys think it would be OK if I brought my mobile studio and just bring some big lights and everything and go crazy? So instead of having the semicircle of photographers around the one single model, I wanted to do something a little bit more elaborate They said, sure, no problem Just make sure you ask for permission So I said great So went there I got there about an hour earlier with a group of my assistants Walked around, made friends with people I think I was dressing up in a corset at some point, twirling around, just making friends, spotting all the people that I thought would be interesting to shoot Because these people didn’t actually know each other, but they’re all dressed in this similar fashion I just started keeping an eye out on all these different individuals that were interesting And after a while that people had actually seen me there, they knew that I was nonthreatening, I suppose, I decided to just bring all these lights out and just set up this huge studio just in the middle where we happened to be And then we just source all these people together

and then suddenly I had this crazy set that required zero preparation I just showed up there and thought a little bit differently And because I had all the big fancy lights, people were really interested in what I was doing So the first one was a little bit harder, and then the rest just kinda fell into place Props and accessories How do come across those? And really, it’s just about the same thing as models, except that, on top of that, you might have different stores, like prop stores, centric stores I think at the end of the day, you have to think about what do you have to offer them, right? Why would they be interested in lending you things? That’s if you want it for free– if you want to pay for it, then it’s usually quite easy In my case, I don’t like to pay for things because I never end up keeping them, but I like to have really cool props all the time So I’m sure you guys have all wanted to shoot with a leopard or jaguar And I’ve always wanted to shoot with these animals, but, you know, getting a trained jaguar just costs thousands and thousands of dollars So then I thought to myself, well, why don’t we actually just take a dead one– taxidermied? So Adobe was flying down to do a documentary on me, and they said that I could shoot whatever I want, and then they would document it So I said I better make it exciting So this is off in Toronto, where there was a place called the Scarborough Bluffs And I wanted to do a photo shoot So I started looking around, reaching out to my fan base, saying, hey, do you guys have any contacts in the taxidermy industry? And one guy just came up and said, hey, I do I’m like, oh, great He had worked with them in the past He gave me their contact information I could have Googled them– they’re actually the biggest taxidermy company in Canada And I wrote them an email They didn’t really reply Wrote another time, didn’t reply I finally just ended up calling them and explaining that Adobe was going to do an interview with me, that if they would be so kind as to lend me one of their pets, maybe we could work something out We’ll get the film crew to come in and document a little bit of the surroundings Everyone can use it as a nice visibility panel And they agreed They said as long as you have $50,000 of prop insurance– because apparently one of these things has a value of about $30,000 or $40,000– then we’re more than welcome to come and use it And so we did We ended up renting a truck so that we could fit this stinky thing in It’s huge And we’re six people carrying a piece of plywood carrying a Jaguar down the beach to the exact place that we needed it So how do you find super props? Find the places that sell them Find a place that retail them If you can’t afford to buy it, give them something that they can use in return And talent– talent You know, the fun thing about talent– and by talent, I mean hair, makeup, all that other stuff Body-painters You know, I think the key thing is that these artists are also just as driven by great work as you are And the reason they would want to work with you is because you can represent their work in the best way possible And the thing is, if you start doing the things that you love and you start creating content that you’re passionate about that other people like to look at, then you’re going to attract the people that like what you do, too So it all works really, really nicely together Very recently I did this photo shoot with this body-painter This was actually done in LA just a week, two weeks ago It was like 10 days ago And this guy’s name is Michael Rosner And I had seen his work pass online on one of those viral, Buzzfeed type of websites And I saw it and I was just blown away by how amazingly detailed and intricate his body-painting work was And I really wanted to meet up with him a year and a half ago, when I came to LA the first time And it just didn’t happen I had added him on Facebook, reached out to him, shown him my work And this time around when I came to LA, I said, I’m working with you This is the one project that I really want to do I helped fund the designers to make the costumes for the shoot, specifically designed to create something with an underwater feel to it, and got it all together But the only reason these people wanted to work with me in the first place is because I do things– I gravitate towards what they want to do You have to always think about what do you have to offer in return? In my case, my selling point to this guy who arguably is just as successful as myself in the UV world, if not more, I had to come up with a product, like a pitch, to get him interested And my pitch was that I had these brand-new fancy lights from Broncolor that they were going to be lending me that output UV So I had UV flashes, which meant that nobody else could get these really, really crisp, clean ultraviolet imagery, because usually it outputs so little light And it worked And it worked only because this entire time, these last three years, my portfolio that’s been building has all been about these extravagant, cool things that are focused on new technology, new gizmos, that would potentially Bring in more work for him, which is what he’s interested in So you’ve all of this stuff– location, models, props, and talents How do you actually coordinate all that? How do you get people together? How do you bring them together to want to work with you? And I have a couple tips that have been really interesting The first is to make things into group projects, not your projects That means that, if the project is about us,

it’s a lot stronger If I go up to someone and say, I want you to do this for me, that’s usually on an I want to hire you basis But if you say, let’s do something together– what do you think, it becomes a lot more communal People get a lot more involved because they have a stake in it It becomes about that interaction between two people Explain to people how the products are good for them So the difference between saying, hey guys– say I was talking Michael Rosner and I said, hey, I really love your work It would look amazing in my portfolio You absolutely have to work with me It would be amazing That’s significantly weaker than me perusing his portfolio and saying, hello, I’ve looked at your ultraviolet shots, and you know what? I’ve noticed there’s a little bit lack of detail in your work, and that’s because you don’t have the right equipment for the job I happen to have sponsors that are going to be giving me $5,000 of equipment that will now allow me to make your work look better than it’s ever been presented before Do you want to work together with me on something? That’s significantly stronger And it’s the same exact pitch, just phrased differently And I think that presenting this, I’m thinking in this way, and just on the general, everyday basis of coming up to people and talking to them about how they’re going to benefit from working with you, is extremely powerful, extremely fun Right Delegating things is also a really interesting approach There’s a bunch of benefits of delegating work The first is, if you delegate it, you don’t have to do it so much You have less to do The second is that, when you delegate something to someone, give them something to do, they become more involved They’re investing more time into your projects In my case, for example, I have a model that I want to get involved into my project a little bit more And we’re looking for, I don’t know, a red dress And I say, hey, do you think you can look into your wardrobe? Do you have any red dresses that you have there? I’m kind of not too sure which direction I want to take this project If you can take some selfies of yourself in these different dresses, I’d just love to see what they look like And she sends them back and like, oh, I don’t actually like any of those Do you think you could go to some stores that you like and just maybe take some shots of things you like? Maybe create a Pinterest board of dresses that you think would be interesting We’ll see what we can come up with And then suddenly this girl’s already put now like three hours, whatever, into the shoot It’s not just the “yes, I’ll come” one-line text and Facebook So the day before the photo shoot, if she’s gotten into an argument with her boyfriend at 2 in the morning, and she’s just crying all night long, and woke up, and the shoot’s at 6 o’clock in the morning She wakes up, she’s hungover, and she doesn’t want to come to your shoot, well, she’s already invested a little bit more time into the project She’s invested a lot more effort into it So they’re even more likely to show up, because, once again, it’s not just your project It’s their project, this project that they care about, it’s a project that they want to be involved in So delegating is super cool, because not only does it reduce your workload, people get involved They feel like they mean something They feel like they have a more important stake in the project, and it’s just great vibes all around Following up with things is super important Why? People are really, really busy People have things to do You know, if you don’t remind them that they’re supposed to be doing something with you, they’re going to forget about it, and they’re not going to be part of the project anymore So you can’t just get someone interested three months down the line, ignore them for three months, and show up and say, hey, why didn’t you show up to my project? They completely forgot about it, because you didn’t follow up You didn’t make sure that they were still interested So I like to create Facebook groups online I create these little groups, these little communities We post pictures up occasionally Every time there’s a new person that’s added to the project, every time there’s a new update in the development, I share it just to keep people interested, to show them that things are going forward Because these are large projects that take time to come together, people need to be reminded of what they’re waiting for along the way And then last but not least, you have to take control So I talk a lot about all these group projects I talk a lot about how everybody is entitled to pitching their opinions, because these are team projects, these are team orientations But you still need to be able to take control of the final project You still need to be able to take charge and say, well, this is what I want to do This is the vision Because there’s only one person at the end of the day who’s going to be shooting it There’s only one person that is going to be editing it and publishing it So that’s probably going to be the photographer So you have to know what you want to do, and you have to be able to perform it Now, you have all those four factors You know how to get them, you know to get your talent, you know how to get your elements What could you possibly be missing? And that’s technique And I think technique is one of the things that we, especially the geeky engineering type of people like myself, really get caught up on And you don’t want people– like people don’t look at images and say, oh, wow That’s an amazing three point lighting set up! Nobody thinks that way They see a story, and then they appreciate it, and then the technique that you’ve used to create it just becomes incidental Nobody actually cares about the technique that is used to achieve the results So for example, this image over here You look at it You don’t go like, wow, that’s an amazing long exposure shot combined with some flashes You don’t see that, but that’s exactly what it was So in my case, what happened was I bought some leaf filters That meant I could drag the shutter I could bring some flashes that the battery power strobes that were a little bit closer, and this is something that I want to experiment with It was a new technique, but it was built into a story line I knew that if I had a girl crash on top of the waves that look really good, but it fits a story It’s not for the effect The effect only serves to enhance the story Right? And so if you have all of the stuff, you have your technique, you have your models, and now you want to tell your story, it doesn’t really matter anymore what

elements you have and ones you don’t have, because all the things that you learn along the way can be applied in any context This was a shoot that I did in 24 hours from the time the stylist actually showed up to the rest, to find the model, design the costumes We found the location the day of the shoot One hour before I got there, I started doing some scouting The technique to light it All these things are in the back burner, because once you’ve mastered how to make all of this work, it’s just a question about recycling it and reapplying it into whatever context you need to do It doesn’t matter anymore what’s easy and what’s not And this, I suppose, at the day, you can summarize into being the “epic formula.” And I can already hear people complaining and saying, well, my work’s not epic It doesn’t work that way anyways And you know, what it really is at the end of day, what the difference is between the epic an ordinary is something that us as photographers do every single day, because you take what is ordinary with your camera, and because of the lens, the perspective, the lighting, the color toning, all this stuff, you make something that is ordinary into something that is epic That is what you do Am I running out of time? I have 15 minutes? All right I’ll try to talk faster I can’t talk faster I’m talking fast But as photographers, that’s exactly what we do We transform things that are epic and we make them into– something that is ordinary and make them into something extraordinary And I have a couple other examples from other photographers out there, because I know that you don’t believe me And we can look at the work of other photographers out there So Jason Lee He took photos of his sons and daughter– sorry, his two daughters– for a mother that couldn’t see them because she was hospitalized, and just came up with all these creative ways of showcasing his kids to his parents Jill Greenberg Taking kids– not the most exciting subject– but putting them with really edgy lighting, different concept, different storyline, into something that was very atypical, telling something epic And then sometimes when you do these projects, they get picked up by people Seth Casteel Pet photography– also not the most exciting of things But because he came up with the idea of throwing a ball into the water, having these dogs come in just looks completely different, looks completely exciting Joey L. Going off to exotic countries, traveling Going to the effort of going there one month before to meet the locals, going back another month after, bringing [INAUDIBLE] strobes, medium format cameras, all of these different things to come and shoot these images in a way that hasn’t been done before, and then coming back a month after that to deliver full-size prints to these locals who have never had their photo taken before Something that’s absolutely fantastical Martin Kilmas Product photography, which is a boring subject But because he had taken these subjects, put them onto a high speed end trigger, creating these really dynamic action shots, it looks really, really cool Quin Miller The T-Rex bride– I’m sure all of you guys have seen this Same He didn’t come off with the idea of saying, I’m going to make something that’s going to go viral He came along with this idea of saying, I’m going to have fun with what I do I’m going to do what I love, and I’m going to create something interesting and something exciting So anyone can do it There’s not really an excuse Just a matter of perception No, we don’t have time for questions So I want to talk about failure really quickly And failure I think is one of those subjects that’s really important, because it’s something that a lot of people have to go through– or, everyone has to go through it, really I have this quote over here that I think is really interesting It’s “I failed my way to success” by Thomas Edison And I really believe that’s just how it works You can’t wake up and succeed at everything That’s just not how the world works I went to a conference off in January, and one of the presenters there said this quote that I thought was really amazing And he said, “The definition of success is to suck less.” So if every day, you suck less and less and less, eventually you’re going to be successful, right? And I have stories of a failure here for you guys And there’s these two failures, which is Von Wong and fire For those of you who know my work or are relatively familiar with it, you’ll know I shoot a lot of fire work And this started off with two failures So the first failure was when I tried to light somebody on fire So the idea came because we have the Fstoppers competition, and I told myself that, you know what, even if I couldn’t win, at least I’d do something so outrageous that people would remember it And that was to light someone on fire And I know what you guys are all thinking– that I roasted the guy alive and that was the end of that But no, what actually happened was that this guy wouldn’t burn It didn’t really matter what we did I don’t know if it was because we were shooting in December, because we were stupid, shooting in December, it was super windy that day, the fuel wasn’t right Something just wasn’t right And almost all the fire that you see is pretty much Photoshopped He just wouldn’t burn It didn’t really matter what we did So it drove me crazy Cost us $350 Turns out it’s really expensive to light a person on fire If ever you want to light someone on fire, you’ll know And $350 to light this guy on fire So I complained to the pyrotechnician and said, you know what, you’re supposed to do it Didn’t work out It’s all your fault, na na na He said, OK, OK Why don’t we do a shoot next week, and I’ll be the model? And this time we’ll do like a stunt man on fire, like I’ll go on a motorcycle, light myself on fire, and you can have some epic pictures And I said, great! That sounds even better So moving on, that became failure number two, because failure number two, we had the exact same problem, unfortunately Even though we went in a more sheltered place, it was probably a little bit colder because we’re still in December in Canada And we try lighting this guy on fire

So the same thing– the entire body’s supposed to be engulfed in flames, and this time he just would burn in little patches It just wouldn’t work out Didn’t really matter So what did I do? Photoshop There’s not really any way around it At the end of day, you gather all these people around to deliver a final result, and this was the closest that we could get So the culmination of these two failures was, unfortunately, a lot of popularity So these pictures, these videos– these behind-the-scenes videos started getting featured all over the place, and I think they were my most viral videos at the time And I was like, why? Why, out of all my photos that are so much nicer, why did these failures get featured? And the result of one of these videos at the end was this dude who left a comment– his name is Andre Dass He’s a pyrotechnician off in France And he said, your photos are awesome, but your fire work kind of sucks And I was like, ha! You’re amazing You know what you’re talking about So I reached out to him and I started stalking him I saw his work, and it was some amazing fire stuff And I asked him if he wanted to collaborate together, and he said, when you come to France, we’ll talk And when I had my Europe project to travel through Europe, I reached out to him, and I said I’d love to work with you And we ended up doing that And then that was the time where we really started working together, and that’s where all my most iconic fire work actually started to take place This was when we finally managed to find the best combination of the guy who was able to perform the effect, and me who was able to tell the story And we’ve done everything from blending Tesla coils with fire to actually going to different countries and performing these different fire pieces all over the place, which was absolutely fantastical No time for questions [LAUGHTER] So now the last part is Photoshop And I think Photoshop is always a really, really interesting piece of the puzzle It’s something that everybody always wants to see And they make a huge deal about it, because they think that everything that I do is Photoshop, and they think that if they could just find out the secret for what I do, then they would be able to do the same And I have some bad news, and that’s that Photoshop is just a tool like any other It’s just one piece of the puzzle It is the part of the puzzle where you take the photo, you bring it into the computer, and you finalize it You make it look pretty You hide the trick that made it work And so I have a bunch of behind-the-scene images of before and after This was a shoot that I just talked to you guys about shooting an underwater shipwreck in Bali And this is the before and after So you start off with an image where– if you guys shoot underwater, you know it desaturates everything, gets rid of all the color, so you end up with this really, really bland color palette And you just clean it up, getting rid of different elements, distracting elements You can transform an image from being something mediocre into something absolutely phenomenal Here’s the same shot that I showed you guys of the underwater black lights of the guys floating on top of the water And we start off with, once again, an image that you get as close to reality as possible Here you can notice that even in the mouth, we took these pieces of cloth that we put onto their tongues to give them a little bit of definition, but we didn’t actually manage to get it all right in the right places But then just cleaning it out, you still go from the same image before to cleaning out to after So you still start off with something really cool, and you make it better National Slovak Theatre off in Slovakia We have this image The pose is interesting, the lighting is pretty dynamic, but, unfortunately, you have one side that’s way better than the other, the side that’s relatively dark, and the floor needs a little bit of cleaning So what happens when you just clean all these elements out? Then the photo goes from looking like something that is pretty cool, which looks like a photo, to something that suddenly becomes a little bit more like an illustration On top of that, you can give the guy more biceps, which is always good [LAUGHTER] We take the same photo of the shipwreck that I did And you’ll notice– I don’t know, you’ve already seen the after picture, but you’ll notice, this one, the before is a pretty picture, but there’s still things that are really, really distracting The red of the lantern immediately pops your eye, because it’s so red, it’s out of the color palette of the rest of the image So it stands out It looks crappy Her hand Her hand is white We see the hand right away, we ignore the face Why? Because it’s white It’s in the center of the frame It’s attracting a lot of attention There’s hair There’s lines of water streaming the wrong direction across the hair Why? Because I thought it would be a good idea to toss some water up It went the wrong direction So at the end of the day, just getting rid of all of these details– oh, and making her butt smaller– are things that really make the shot go from looking pretty to looking almost like an illustration But there’s nothing really fancy about it You start with an image that’s as close to reality as possible and make it better And of course, you have images like this one, which was shot at Disney Concert Hall in LA, where you’re imposed the restrictions of the location In this case, we weren’t allowed to have tripods So what we’d do? I had this guy– hefty dude with a white shirt– and he was my human soft box We put a flash instead of his t-shirt, and we have this light just streaming in from the side to light up my main subjects Now because we had a human soft box, well, we couldn’t actually flag it off properly, so you can see that huge flare just bleeding into the side of the image Doesn’t actually work too well But then by cleaning this all up, by getting rid of all the distractions, by cleaning up that floor, where all the different things, by enhancing the colors and the contrast, your same image, which you’ve gotten as close to as possible

in camera, now looks even better And the part that I spent the most time on was just polishing the floor, which is the most boring thing ever It’s like actually cleaning a floor, except on a computer It sucks But the thing that people always imagine when they think Photoshop is they think images like this, where you take, wow, look this big, banging effect But the sad part is, when you look at an image like this, you know it’s Photoshopped right away, right? Because you know it’s not possible So the illusion is lost And this was shot– it’s super easy to do It looks super impressive, super easy to do No lighting We were in an abandoned building– big top, no roof, light streaming in, having guy jump off the ladder Took three shots– one with a shirt, one with a t-shirt, one without a shirt– this was the one I retained– and we just tossed all these objects up in different places, and just kind of pasted them into place Simple compositing There’s nothing really fancy about it It was a very, very simple edit I think it took less than an hour to put together And I think, really, at the end of the day, images are supposed to be enhanced Like Photoshop is really that tool to enhance You try really hard to get something close This is me breathing fire, except that the magic is a little bit lost, because you see the torch, you see the source of the flame You see where it’s coming from, which gets rid of the magic The fire is also not big enough, and you know, we like things nice and big and poufy So just by taking that same transform tool, putting it in different places, you can come and you can make a shot that looks really good to start with into something that looks absolutely amazing And it’s not complicated, it’s just about seeing the image and knowing what to get rid of And of course, removing the mistakes Things that you do– you know, in the middle of the shoots, things that you can’t get rid of, like your assistants shooting from behind the pillar Really big pain in the butt You still have to be able to edit them And you can enhance your image, you can make it better using these simple tools And then like I said, this is that shot that I talked about really, really quickly about The Agonists, where you really try to get as close as possible in camera, because it means that you have less work to do in post All these little fancy effects that we did– all the sparks, all the lighting, all that stuff was time consuming, but it wasn’t complicated It was just about taking faces from the image, putting them into the little screens, taking these little sparks, and stacking them up here and there just to make the image a lot more elaborate It doesn’t matter what level of complexity the image is It’s the same tools that you apply over and over and over again Right? So there’s three simple rules to follow And I think that if you follow these rules, and you apply it to any level of photography, it will really help make them better And the three rules are number one, removing distractions Number two, paying attention to color, and number three, darkening things that are unimportant The first removing distractions is very, very simple It’s the idea of getting rid of anything that you don’t need in an image So if you look at this picture right here, there are a bunch of elements that are completely useless We have one, the bald spot behind the grandmother’s head We have two, the garbage bins They set you into the present, because garbage bins are a present thing We have that weird pole going through the lampshade, which you don’t really know what it is That tree line I also think is completely useless, because it doesn’t transport us anywhere new It doesn’t tell us any more where the location is, doesn’t make it more exotic or not So getting rid of all these distractions and smoothing the whole thing out takes your image of something that is pretty into something that is completely polished Because now, when you look at the image, your eye immediately goes straight to the girl It follows the line down to the couple watching, and then it straps up, and you notice where it is Because of the lamppost, you know it’s European You know there’s ballerinas, you know there’s people watching it It’s almost like a show You complete the story in your own head, because now there are no more distractions, because you can automatically just kind of piece all these together This maybe looks a little bit more posed Right? Paying attention to color is also really, really important I have this shot from the Underwater Realm with no color in And you can see, even though all the characters are all placed in the right place, which is great, it doesn’t look magical It doesn’t transport you But the minute you start playing around with lighting, you say, OK, well, the most important part of this image is what’s happening in the center So let’s lighten it up Your shot’s already a little bit more interesting But now even though it’s interesting, it still doesn’t feel complete, because the color’s not there And because like I said earlier, when you shoot underwater, it eats all of the color out When you add the color back in, then suddenly your image becomes complete And it’s just a question of adding a little bit of oranges in And the reason why it’s orange is because it gives you that kind of sensation of sunlight streaming in Right? AUDIENCE: So part of the failures that I might think that you probably have run into is have you ever come across moments of dry spells in creativity, where you just can’t form that story that you’re interested in? BEN VON WONG: Yeah Definitely Yeah, definitely it’s one of those things that happens, where you aren’t quite inspired, and you don’t really know what you want to create anymore, and you can’t create anymore And I think that the solution, when those times invariably do come forward, is to just keep doing the things that

make you happy, to force things back to the present So it’s normal as a creative– especially you have these really high ups and these low downs, and it comes up and down– that you don’t really know what you’re trying to do But when you just do the things that you enjoy– for example, in my case, that’s meeting new people, that’s traveling, that’s going to new places– even if I don’t feel inspired, and I just put myself into these situations where I’m doing the things that I love to do, then the inspiration kind of gradually follows along the way, because it has to When you’re doing the things that you like, even if you don’t really feel like them, it’s almost like putting yourself in a room with a bunch of happy people You’re eventually going to start smiling So I think it’s that very simple idea But if you don’t feel inspired, and every day you just stay at home and lock yourself in a room and go to sleep or watch TV, then that inspiration is probably going to be a lot harder to come back to you Whereas if you’re doing the things that you enjoy, it helps a little bit more That’s cool? All right I’m going to move forward in my presentation so that I can finish it, and then we can hang out and ask questions, even though you don’t have a lot So darkening things that are unimportant I think is a very important thing And I have this image over here, because you still start with an image that, at the end of the day, looks pretty good But when you look at the image, there’s still distractions along on the way You don’t really know how to read the image, because you have those really bright patches in the front, you have a lot of bright patches coming in, because the sun was streaming in and we only had two lights But when you darken things out and you just even out the lighting, then suddenly that story becomes a lot more apparent You control the viewer experience by simply controlling the lighting And then suddenly by darkening things that aren’t important, that you don’t want to call attention to, it still sets the tone and the mood and the location of the whole shoot without affecting the rest of the image And the reason why there’s a little start at the end of it is because the only time that wouldn’t apply is when it’s a high key image And if you take an image like this one, which was shot at a wedding seminar, we have to get rid of distractions, once again And you look at it, and you’re like OK, it’s really a mediocre location, which it was How do you make it better? Well, if you clean up all the areas and you make things brighter, that same image can go from looking very mundane into looking really, really clean Even if you look at this image, well, I kind of screwed up because I forgot to brighten the reflection on the bottom, the reflection on the tiles, but it still works It’s still cleaned up the image, because now, there’s nothing else to distract you You just see front and center the main model, because all the other stuff has been blown away So those are the three simple rules to follow And the good news about these three simple rules is that they work in just about any context So we have this photo over here, which is of the medieval shoot, which, incidentally, is a photo that I really dislike, because it just took hours of Photoshop to fix up The original image actually looked like this, which is a complete mess You look at it, you have no idea what’s going on It looks like a tavern brawl And the reason is because the lighting wasn’t done I thought that if I put one light up over to the left and I put another light up over to the right, I would kind of create this nice cross-lighting set up, which would create a spotlight effect on the characters in the center, and then if I popped a whole bunch of strobes in the background, then it would kind of rim the existing characters and it would look really cool I was completely wrong But I had 50 people waiting after me to model and wondering why it was taking me so long to press my button on my camera while they were posing So at the end of the day, I just had to take the shot, and I told myself I’d fix it in post And I originally knew that I was going to add these two jumping characters So this is kind of the shot that I started off with You can see it’s absolutely illegible, impossible to read You have no idea what’s going on So in applying those same rules into this image, which is desaturating and darkening the things that aren’t important, you can already notice how big of a difference that makes just by getting rid of all those really bright spots that served no purpose The image suddenly starts to stand out at the right place We know that the center of the image is the most important part The characters are the most important We fill up all the holes from a composition standpoint to make sure that all the characters are in the right place at the right time, and then you suddenly have this nice spiral that is framing the center of our image From there we have light, contrast, and colors So what I was saying about making the center just a little bit brighter to draw a little bit more attention into the middle was going to be really, really critical to making the shot look a little bit better And then I reached this point where I just didn’t know what to do anymore, because I was like, OK, well I got pretty far It’s looking pretty good, but it still looks like a mess I started to think about what I could do to make it at least stand out a little bit more And I figured that, what do they do in video games? Well, all the characters are glowing, so why don’t I just make them glow? So I made all the characters glow And now suddenly it looks like a completely fantastical scene It doesn’t make perfect sense from a completely physical standpoint, but it does actually look like a legible image You can kind of understand what is going on, and it’s not too bad And unfortunately, what this means is that you end up with a bazillion layers, bazillion hours of work So, 40 hours of work And you’ll notice that in the beginning of my presentation where I was talking about why I love photography, at no point did I say sitting in front of my computer alone for 40 hours So that is one of the reasons why

I love to just get out there and do things as much as possible in camera, so I don’t need to end up in this situation over here So in conclusion, what I’m trying to say is that photography is really about these splits You have 33% that’s really about the pre-production, about getting all the elements right beforehand, so that when you do your shoot, which is the next 33%, you can actually do a good job, apply all the technical knowledge you have And then the last 33% is really the post-production side of things, where you sit down and you fix, you iron things out, and you complete the job And now the good news is you don’t really need to be great at all the three above If you suck at pre-production, well, you can be a really great photographer and compensate for it, or be really great at post-production if you suck at shooting and pre-production You can compensate for all of these things So it’s just one of these balances, and you need to figure out which point do you stand? What is the balance that you want to be? So in conclusion, “Choose a job that you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius That is it The end [APPLAUSE]

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